At its most basic, The Maze Runner can be summed up as follows:
Thomas wakes up in a mysterious elevator cage without any memory of who or where he is, only to be thrust into the company of a ragtag group of boys who have learned to survive in the Glade, which rests at the center of a massive, murderous maze. But Thomas isn't as willing to accept the status quo as the rest. Desperate to understand why they are in the Maze and who designed it, Thomas tries to piece together his fragmented memories and find a way out of the Maze. Doing so, however, may threaten the entire community...The premise of the film is fairly standard YA dystopia stuff, although what apparently separates Thomas from the rest of the boys is his curiosity, which sounds less like a magic skill than some kind of behavioral conditioning that the film barely acknowledges. Fans of the books have been raving about this film, as to be expected, which might explain why it has earned nearly $200mil worldwide as of Oct. 5th, 2014. But I'm not convinced that The Maze Runner will have a lasting impact.
Second, the film's pacing is either stilted or simply "off." In one important scene, Thomas is attacked by a Runner (folks who map the maze in order to find a way out) who has been stung, but this scene comes out of nowhere without any real buildup, and it ends in a remarkably anticlimactic way. There are likewise moments in the film which arise in such a hackneyed fashion that I could see the "character development time" coding on the figurative wrapping paper. These types of scenes jump back and forth in a way that limits the buildup to the climax; for me, this meant that those final moments lacked the impact that they needed to escape the bonds of the cliffhanger. I almost want to blame this on the script, but I think there is a deeper problem here.
That problem might be that The Maze Runner is utterly forgettable. The direction, while serviceable, falls short of delivering something that would separate this film from its contemporaries. There is tension here, but it is lackluster, simple. Take this scene, for example:
This became apparent to me upon rewatching Gareth Edwards' Godzilla (2014). Though an imperfect film, there's a clear sense in Godzilla that Edwards understood the scale of a world at the mercy of giant monsters. Thus, we end up with scenes like this:
To be fair to The Maze Runner, perhaps I should point to a genre-related example: The Hunger Games (2012). In doing so, however, I hope it will become apparent what I mean when I suggest that The Maze Runner manages to be serviceable, but never seems to use the various regions of the filmic space to convey the feelings it intends the audience to receive, just as its characters, as I'll discuss later, so often lack those same emotions (even Thomas seems less scared than utterly confused in the clip provided above). Take the Cornucopia sequence from The Hunger Games as an example:
This also comes down the film's inability to present characters with much in the way of actual character or development. The lone tragic villain, Gally (played by Will Poulter), is one of the only characters with any real arc, moving from stern toughy to violent overlord who wants to preserve the existing order out of fear. But even he is an archetype of sorts, never rising above the scripted narrative we should have all seen coming from the first fifteen minutes of the film. The same could be said of Chuck (Blake Cooper), the adorable chubby kid who thinks about the parents he's never met -- my friend and I knew exactly what would happen to him in the end. But the rest of the characters are simplistic and, sadly, dull. The lead, Thomas (Dylan O'Brien), spends most of the film with a confused look on his face, which would be fine for the first twenty minutes, but quickly becomes irritating as you realize this is the only emotion he seems to have: confused fear with a side of confused yelling. There's little else to him, and that can't be explained away by his initial amnesia, unless we're assuming (and falsely, given how the narrative progresses) that the builders of the Maze stripped everyone of their personalities before leaving them to their own devices. Instead, we just have to assume Thomas was as dull before the Maze.
All of the characters suffer from this dull, archetypal mindlessness. Given that the bulk of the film focuses on life in the Maze, this dullness allowed me to wander to the Maze itself. Rather than the environmental horror it was meant to be, it became the one true character in the entire novel, adapting and shifting from start to finish to accommodate the plot changes. That the Maze was more memorable than the people is telling of the film's lackluster performance in most other respects.
Visuals: 4/5 (the visuals are quite nice, actually, even if they are not presented in a particularly compelling way)
Adaptation: 2/5 (though reasonably faithful to the book, I don't think that actually works in its favor)
Overall: 2.4/5 (48%)(for lackluster direction, dull characterization, and forgettable-ness)
Inflated Grade: C- (I'm tempted to give this a D+, but I don't think it's actually bad enough to qualify as Torture Cinema)
: Cooper does give one hell of a final performance, though.
: Honestly, I don't think the film relays a sexist message here. There is only one noticeable joke about Teresa's gender, which occurs after she has hidden herself away in a watchtower and begun chucking rocks at the boys in an effort to get them to go away (mostly because she has no idea what is going on and they're trying to help her through the transition period). One of the boys comments, "Is this what girls are like?," indicating to the audience that a) he's never seen a girl in his entire life, and b) he has no idea what to expect from a girl given that his daily experiences involve boys.
: Granted, The Maze Runner is a modified form of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth myth from ancient Greece.